Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 16, 2014
Sirach 15:15-20 Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

Everyone professes to want freedom and yet not everyone knows what to do with it when it is within one’s grasp. Ask any adolescent who wants to break free of her parents’ protective grip and you will get an affirmative reply. Parents are cautious with their children because they know that giving them too much freedom too soon will give them enough time and resources to harm themselves. A maturing individual recognizes that freedom does not give one license to do what she wants because freedom carries with it great responsibility. Freedom binds us to the common good and demands that we respect, honor, and value the wellbeing of others.

            Let me give you a few examples. You are free to park your car on the sidewalk or to double-park for your own convenience, but you erode the common good when you do not allow foot or vehicular traffic to pass without obstruction. You can smoke cigarettes in a café or restaurant because no one will stop you, but you negatively affect the common good when others have breathing ailments or merely want to breathe in unpolluted air. You can interrupt two people in the middle of a conversation because you have something to say right now, but you degrade the common good by disrespecting the two people who are trying to talk to resolve an issue. Wait your turn. You can do many things that violate another person’s boundaries because you desire something for yourself, but alas, it does not mean it is in anyone’s best interests. If you want to be liked, accepted, valued, and respected, wait your turn and learn the rules of social engagement. Learn these good manners because you will find that the measure you give to others will be the measure given back to you. There’s that old wise British saying, “A gentleman never gives nor takes offense.” How do you want to be known?

In First Corinthians, Paul reminds the Christian community that we speak a wisdom to those who are mature. Wisdom can only be found among the mature and it makes it easier for us to follow the advice of Sirach when he writes, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments.” We do not have to act poorly just because the larger society tolerates it or even accepts it. We do not have to be defined by the culture around it; rather, we can define it as we define ourselves as Christians. Sirach tells us that God has set before us fire and water, life and death, good and evil, and it is up to us to choose in our freedom with the wisdom of God. He says the one who trusts in God shall live.

How do your treat your freedom? Some are limited externally in their freedom because of their station in life; others limit their freedom internally from their own choosing; we all retain freedom for the responsible choices we make. We have to ask a particular question in order to move forward: Do I want freedom from something or freedom for something? The second part of the question is the more interesting one. For an adolescent, to be free from doing the chores your parents require is one thing, but if you no longer have that responsibility and you just sit at home all day texting on Whatsapp, then you have squandered your freedom. Freedom is a direction towards something. We must move onwards and upward to a new possibility for ourselves. It is helpful for us to see the rules as a way to ensure a respectful, purposeful, common good. Paradoxically, rules are there to assist and promote freedom, not inhibit it. How do we allow rules to help us actualize all the gifts God has given to us? No one likes senseless laws that limit, but if we do not even try to understand the purpose of the law, we do not even try to gain new wisdom.

Jesus reminds us that wisdom is needed as we examine laws and traditions and he says he comes to fulfill the law, every single part of the law, because he knows the common good is being served. He takes a look at the Ten Commandments and holds it up for tighter scrutiny because he knows the havoc an uninformed, immature attitude can have upon the goodwill and responsible building up of the community. Our attitudes can destroy. They can also create. Jesus tells us that we cannot merely interact with the laws as an individual who is trying to get free from something, but that we have to see the positive affects intended for the community as something life-creating.  The secret is in our choosing.

To repeat Sirach, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.” These are wonderfully consoling words, but let me disturb you with a question, “Does God trust in you?”

I conclude with an excerpt from the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky about the choices we can make when faced with the possibilities of freedom. He writes:

When the Inquisitor ceased speaking, he waited some time for the prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently into his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But he suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on the bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to him, "Go..."

And the kiss glowed in the old man's heart. 

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In the Letter of James, the author asks the followers of Jesus to consider it a joy to encounter various trials because testing of the faith produce perseverance. All who are lacking in the faith ought to ask for wisdom. Blessed is the one who perseveres in temptation because when he is proven fit, the crown of life will be promised to him. All good giving and every good gift is from above and represents God. James cautions everyone to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger because anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Be doers of the word and not hearers only. He tells them to show no partiality because God does not show favorites. God asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves because showing favorites means we are convicted by the law as transgressors. James tells them that faith without good works is not faith at all. Faith must be demonstrated by our active care for one another. ~ On the feast of the Chair of Peter, we hear from Peter’s letter about how a church leader ought to care for his flock. By respecting the flock and witnessing to the sufferings of Christ, a church leader will be known for his goodness.

Gospel: The Pharisees began to argue with Jesus seeking a sign from him, but he would not give it because his wonder-workings are not on display for human amusement. As the disciples journeyed on with Jesus, they forgot to bring bread and only had one loaf with them. Jesus told them to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. He asked them to remember that it was he who broke the five loaves for the five thousand. When they arrived at Bethsaida, people brought to Jesus a blind man. He put spittle on his eyes and asked if he could see. Since it was partial, Jesus tried again and the man came to full sight. As they traveled to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his friends, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replies for the group, “You are the Christ.” He then told them that he must be handed over, suffer, and be rejected. After he is killed, he will rise on the third day. Whoever wishes to be a disciple of Jesus must  be willing to suffer the same fate as he did because the one who loses his life for the sake of Jesus and for the Gospel will save it.  ~ On the feast of the Chair of Peter, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi asking  his friends, “Who do people say that I am?”

Saints of the Week

February 17: The Seven Founders of the Servites (Thirteenth Century) were from Florence and they joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, who were also known as Praisers. They devoted their apostolate to prayer and service and withdrew to a deserted mountain to build a church and hermitage. After adopting a rule and gaining recruits, they changed their name to the Servants of Mary.

February 21: Peter Damian, bishop and Doctor (1007-1072), was orphaned and raised by his brother, Damian, a priest in Ravenna. He began as a hermit monk and was then made abbot and cardinal. He became a reformer in the church often speaking out against clerical laxness.

February 22: The Chair of Peter is celebrated on this day. Previously, both Peter and Paul were remembered until their feast was transferred to June 29th. As the custom was ingrained in practice, Christians continued to honor the contributions Peter made to the church as the first of the apostles in continuous succession.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Feb 16, 1776. At Rome, the Jesuit prisoners in Castel San Angelo were restored to liberty. Fr. Romberg, the German assistant, aged 80, expressed a wish to remain in prison.
·      Feb 17, 1775. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan Ambassadors in Rome intimate to the newly elected Pope Pius VI the will of their respective sovereigns that the Jesuits imprisoned in Castel S Angelo should not be released.
·      Feb 18, 1595. St Robert Southwell, after two and a half years imprisonment in the tower, was removed to Newgate and there thrust into a dungeon known as "Limbo."
·      Feb 19, 1581. The election of Fr. Claude Acquaviva as fifth general in the Fourth General Congregation. He was only 37 years of age and a Jesuit for only l4 years. He was general under eight popes. He had been a fellow novice with St Stanislaus.
·      Feb 20, 1860. Pope Pius IX visits the rooms of St Ignatius.
·      Feb 21, 1595. At Tyburn, the martyrdom of Robert Southwell after he had suffered brutal tortures in Topcliffe's house and in prison. He embraced the jailer who brought him word that he was to be executed. As he breathed his last, Lord Mountjoy, who presided over the execution, exclaimed: "May my soul be one day with that of this man."
·      Feb 22, 1599. By order of Pope Clement VIII, the superiors general of the Jesuits and the Dominicans, assisted by others, met to settle, if possible, the controversies about grace. Nothing came of the meeting, since the Dominicans insisted on the condemnation of the writings of Fr. Molina.